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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 18 June 2004
Coming From Behind - a title which suggests definite Tom Sharpe oops-there-go-my-bloomers shenanigans. And indeed it does open with the main character Sefton Goldberg - who has all Jacobson's usual characteristics: Jewish (check) academic (check) and would-be writer (check) - in flagrante delicto, hoping he has locked his study door as his bare backside winks at the Yale lock and, he fears, any imminent visitor. But it's not about sex, or relationships, for once, or not primarily. It's a sort of hymn of despair to provincial academic life, all the great - or at least not proven otherwise - thinkers stranded in places like Wrottesley Polytechnic, where Sefton teaches, while hankering after a fellowship at Cambridge. The powers that be in the Polytechnic (and the existence of that term dates the novel already) have decided to twin it with the equally failing non-league Wrottesley Football Club, to save them all a bit of money and share facilities. The novel then flits back and forward with Sefton's past and present as he seeks to escape his dingy flat and dingy job. Coming From Behind shows Jacobson as a real writer's writer - a position which was once disparagingly dismissed as being akin to a gentleman's gentleman - with his half-page sentences, no care (or flair) for plot and determinedly unpopulist dialogue. It's no masterpiece but frequently funny and I found myself able to just bask in the flawless writing for pages at a time, flicking back in wonder at how damned consistently clever he is.
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on 27 July 2011
The book is a fictional account of Jacobson's time as a university lecturer at the then Wolverhampton Polytechnic (called Wrottesely here) where he taught English for a while. I am sure that people who worked there at the time will enjoy a lot of the clearly in-jokes and trying to identify colleagues. For the rest of us it is perhaps not such a funny journey. Jacobson also has almost an obsession with the fact that he (and the main character Goldberg) are Jewish. not being Jewish myself I suppose it helps to perhaps understand more of what it means to belong to that particular group. But, Jacobson hammers home the point too often. As an insight into what it meant to be an academic, and the frustrations of not got the position one hoped for, it is interesting. As a comic novel however I don't think that it makes the grade (if you excuse the pun).
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on 28 November 2015
This is very much an updated Lucky Jim for the 1980s, with the one twist coming in the form of the central character being Jewish. Rather like Kingsley Amis' campus novel (also his first), it would seem that the situations that arise would lead the novel to being a constant laugh aloud fest.

But I think there was only one moment in the whole book I found funny or realistic, ie. the only actual true moment in the book, when the English department gather to discuss whether the university should be sponsored by the local football team and whether lectures should commence in the stands forthwith. But in that great comic moment, when the head of department nearly exploded in rage, the character of Sefton showed himself to be rather an unlovable person. Instead of genuinely commiserating and showing that he was one of the team, he cunningly uses it to play off his colleagues and to use it to his advantage.

The one great redeeming feature of Lucky Jim is that the central character is never really a part of the backstabbing, petty vindictiveness and ego on show from the academics. He is never truly one of them, fails trying and happily leaves (with the head of departments' son's girlfriend to boot). But with Sefton Goldberg in Coming From Behind, whilst we are supposed to feel sorry for him feeling like an outsider in a strange place, I ended up thinking that the man is just as bad as the rest of them, egotistical and arrogant.

Jacobson makes a fair number of jokes aimed at ring roads and the grottiness of the industrial midlands, but I think many of the portrayals are either bordering on nastiness, or just extremely hard to believe. I don't for one moment believe that this man would be such a sex symbol to his students. I didn't buy for one moment that he'd be living in some sort of Rising Damp like conditions and I didn't buy that his neighbour would be exercising at all hours to Tom Jones.

But at least all of these things could potentially be funny. But I really disliked the ending. It seemed to go on and on about Cambridge University and how wonderful it was, how clever Sefton Goldberg was for going there and clearly how clever Howard Jacobson was for having gone there. I think there is a great place for the Jewish novel, set in north London or Brooklyn for instance, but set in the West Midlands, this novel comes across as being spiteful and intellectually snobbish.
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on 3 April 2009
I struggled with this novel. Despite the quotations attesting to how funny it is on the cover, I found that I was dragging myself though its 250 pages. Why? Because Jacobson seems to be averse to dialogue which seems strange in a comic novel. There just seem to be massive passages of endless text which I found myself having to check whether they were the novel's present or back story because I wasn't paying attention. Dialogue lightens up a novel, surely what you need in a comic work?

Also, the continual pointing out that "...because he was Jewish" is tedious in the extreme. You'd guess someone called Sefton Goldberg was Jewish, or had Jewish ancestry as the very least, to have this qualifying what feels like every other sentence becomes almost patronising.

It's a shame that this gets the novel stuck in the mud. Jacobson's parade of characters are well-drawn and he creates a good sense of frustrated ambition and paranoia. I did laugh at Coming from Behind but I would have laughed a lot more had Jacobson not been so successful at writing the life out of it.
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on 4 February 2007
A great introduction to Howard Jacobson. It is not too heavy, and is frequently very funny, as well as exercising all his familiar themes (although, as others have said, there is much less sex than usual). Some great characters and set-pieces and he effortlessly makes Sefton a sympathetic character. If you want to know why Jacobson is widely considered to be the UK's funniest writer, this is a good place to start.
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on 8 March 2004
This wonderful satire of academic life never fails to have me roaring with laughter each time I read it. I like all Jacobson's stuff anyway, but I keep coming back to this fabulous collection of grotesques who are all too believable. Anyone who has attended poly and university will know the types straight away and Sefton's wry, unerringly bitter observations are a delight.
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on 17 August 2014
Campus novel complicated by issues of Jewish identity. Entertaining with flashes of insight seasoned with zeitgeist.
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on 25 September 2014
Very funny and dead clever. Thank God for the Kindle dictionary. I've learned lots of new words.
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on 13 June 2015
Awful .....couldn't continue reading it
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on 23 August 2014
better than expected
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